Editorials: Nito; Spat highlights constitutional problem; and US elections

President Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo. Photo by the Presidencia.

Cortizo flails when he need not

The protests will be getting underway again as you read these words. Hard to say what will come of them, but one good prediction is that there will be lamentations from the president about how unreasonable it all is that people dig in their heels and say “NO!” when he and those aligned with him had all these consultations are offering more.

We are assured that a powerful set of legal minds will advise on which of the changes to the “Concertation” plan that the legislators wrought are palatable. So will we get impunity for bribery and theft, ethnic cleansing and gay bashing reworked in more precise legal terminology? Will privatization schemes make further inroads into our public institutions, “legally” rather than as a product of corporate bribery? If things don’t work out, will the president call a parallel constituent asembly, to be elected under a partisan set-up managed by the partisan institution known as the Electoral Tribunal?

All interesting and important questions, but really beside the point. The big problem is not what is there but what is not there. The structural problem is that the legislators are and will be unwilling to change the undemocratic and manipulable way that they are elected, the peculation and waste and nepotism that run rampant in their offices, the obscene dodges that crooked politicians are allowed in this country. People want an end to that, the parties and their financial backers would spend a bundle to buy any election of delegates to a constitutional convention to keep things basically the way they are, and push has come to shove.

President Cortizo wants a new constitution on his shift? There would be need for election fraud and the massive spending of public funds on deceptive advertising to jam through anything remotely like what’s being discussed. But the president could show a bit of leadership and get his wise counsel to use outside the ongoing process. He could advocate promote a change in the ways of amending the constitution that’s impervious to outside manipulation by the legislature, the courts or for that matter the president. He could spell out a number of key things that he would like to see in a new constitution, and if and when an election for delegates comes around, support candidates who agree with him about those things.

The present process is doomed. To make it undead would be a political zombie invasion, the consequences of which neither Nito Cortizo nor the established political parties could control.

So stop all this stuff about notables and round tables and alliances of respectable organizations that represent hardly anybody. Lead the nation, the whole nation, if you can, Your Excellency.


Ávila: just one more man maligned by Zulay? Photo by the Asamblea Nacional.

A revealing argument between two people who are not to be trusted

For those odd folks who follow Panamanian politics in part for entertainment, we got lowbrow comedy, high drama and educational video wrapped up in one by watching the argument between Leandro Ávila and Zulay Rodríguez.

More than one establishment pundit has opined that Zulay, with her huge packages of legislative and constitutional proposals, has not been playing to get things passed in the short term, but to dynamite the legislative and constitutional proceses while making demagogic appeals to her base. While running for the presidency she commanded the votes of well under 10 percent of the Panamanian people and was bruhed off like a tiny but annoying bug by Nito Cortizo in the PRD primary. But she got the party’s legislative caucus to make her first vice president of the National Assembly. The main power broker behind that was Benicio Robinson, who has been seen to snicker when Zulay goes into her rants. Benicio is more guarded in his words and proposals, but it serves his interest to tangle up any effort to change the constitution in a way that might call him to account for things like the very expensive baseball bats that were paid for but can’t be located.

Ávila, he’s the classic sellout former labor leader who goes with the money and power whenever possible. He knows how to count and recognizes the stuff that Zulay has been trying to put into the constitutional proposal as a set of guarantees that the thing would be voted down. And he says as much.

Whereupon Zulay calls into question the legitimacy of Ávila’s election in the first place, being awarded the San Miguelito residue seat after a challenge before the Electoral Tribunal in which discrepant numbers weren’t really explained in the ruling.

So yeah, there was a credibility problem in May’s elections, and it wasn’t the only one. Exhibit Infinity for a new constitution that the self-interested deputies would never pass were it their choice.

Not that you would ever want to believe anything that Zulay Rodríguez has to say unless amply corroborated by multiple credible sources. But there it is – the democratic bona fides of Panama’s political system are called into question and the official record doesn’t really answer the charge.


A very good night for Democrats

Election Day 2019 played out statewide in only a few places, plus many local and special elections. It was not a clean sweep but the Democrats did very well at all levels and with good success for both the broad centrist and progressive factions of the party and those candidates who are a bit of each.

By flipping the Virginia State Senate from red to blue, the Democrats have made it fairly certain that early next year the state will ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, 38th and last state needed for its passage into the US Constitution. Expect further Republican resistance after that. Perhaps the Republicans of the Supreme Court will find a way to strike it down. That, however, would likely worsen the GOP predicament for the 2020 elections.

By taking the Kentucky governor’s mansion from an incumbent Republican, the next governor, Democrat Andy Beshear demonstrated several things. Most alarming for the GOP is that their leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, faces a no longer so reliably red Kentucky electorate in 12 months’ time. More than that, the incumbent governor baited Beshear about the Green New Deal and associated the Democrat with cogresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Yet this pitch didn’t go over well in coal country. Beshear won much of that part of Eastern Kentucky with realistic talk about how the age of burning coal for energy is ending but that there are things that can be done to make a more just and gentle transition.

Democrats everywhere should draw some inferences. First and foremost, that although defeat can be snatched from the jaws of victory in many ways – division in the general election season the most dangerous – it is likely that any Democrat who is nominated for president will beat Donald Trump. All of the hype about electability is depreciated, leaving it for Democrats to vote for whom and what they want, without fear or compulsion. Which is how it ought to be. Democrats win not so much by pointig out the negative things the Republicans have done and might do, but by campaigning for positive things that Americans need, that Democrats want, but that are not possible without a Democratic president and congress.



                Neither millions, nor alms: we want justice.

José A. Remón                 

Bear in mind…

          Reconciliation is more beautiful than victory.

Violeta Chamorro          


          Forgiving is not forgetting. Forgiving is remembering without pain.

Celia Cruz          


          I’ll be back and there will be millions of us.

Tupac Amaru          


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